A Mother Writes: In Memory of Malka Chana
How can I compress my
Malki’s fifteen years into a mere few words? How can I sing her praises
without sounding hyperbolic? And, the greatest challenge, how can I endure the
pain that this will undoubtedly bring?
While the task seems
daunting, I will attempt it nonetheless. Since a Palestinian Arab suicide bomber
snuffed out her life on August 9th, talking about my Malki is all there is left
for me to do for her. And helping her was something I so enjoyed. The
opportunities were usually limited; she was a very independent girl. I used to
tell friends that she was “fifteen going on eighteen.”
Malki handled all her school
and teacher problems on her own. Shopped for her clothes without me. Conducted a
very active social life at Horev Girls school and in her youth movement, Ezra.
During her last two years, she was rarely at home.
had to look hard for ways to lend her a hand. A lift by car to her flute
lesson now and again to save her the short walk. A quick dash in my car
to hand her the lunch she made but forgotten on the kitchen counter. A
pretty new blouse I thought might grab her. A few packets of her
favourite gum. Small gestures.
But the help she gave me was
always on a grand scale, in ways that truly mattered. I could count on Malki to
calm down her eight year-old sister who has a tendency to become irate or
rebellious. Taking her into her bedroom, they’d chat a while; this would
somehow win her over. Malki would then present me with a cooperative
little girl eager to brush her teeth, finish her homework or do whatever it was
I’d been insisting upon in vain. When I would collapse on the couch after an
exhausting day, Malki appeared at my side with my pillow and blanket, and gently
settled me down. She never missed a chance to compliment me when I dressed up
for a simcha (special occasion) or wore a new outfit.
When my husband
would phone home from one of his overseas business trips, Malki would first ask
him how he was feeling and how his meetings were panning out. Only then would
she enquire about the items she’d asked him to buy her. (I, on the other hand,
would launch pell-mell into my long shopping list, along with a litany of the
woes I was enduring on the home front by myself.) If she were spending some time
downtown, she would call home and offer to do errands for me, aware that I
rarely get out of the house.
Then there was her unique
relationship with Haya-Elisheva, our youngest child, now six-and-a-half, who
suffers from global and profound retardation as well as an extreme epilepsy
condition called Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome. Early on, when Haya was
Malki spent many hours at her side, relieving me or simply keeping me company.
She was only eleven at the time but once alerted me to the fact that a nurse had
hooked Haya up to the wrong IV drip. On another occasion she was the first to
notice a croupy cough that turned out to need antibiotics. As a result of her
competence, I grew to lean on her – perhaps more than I should have. In one of
several diaries she left behind, she confessed that she would be happy if we had
put Haya away in an institution–though to me she insisted that she preferred
to keep her at home.
Despite the challenges, Malki
was well-balanced enough to develop into a wholesome, active teen-ager. Her
ability to see the bright side of things, to concentrate on the
“half-fullness of the cup” became her trademark. Many of her close friends
have written to tell us how Malki constantly inspired them to fight despondence,
be happy, utilize every moment for fun but worthwhile activities. She achieved
this in a variety of ways. One was the cards she sent to her friends: birthdays,
holidays, returns from vacations, a disappointment, whatever. On the cover, an
artistic decoration alongside an apt poem or quotation she had read somewhere
that had touched her. On the back – a personal, original note. Another was the
intense, empathetic heart-to-heart talks she had with her friends. In her
diaries, these are often mentioned as the highlights of her day.
Yet a third medium of
uplifting was music, an area in which she was multi-talented. She studied
recorder and flute for some ten years and acquired impressive skill in both.
When her school or youth movement organized some event she never failed to
contribute with either solo or group performances. At mid and end-of-year
concerts of the neighborhood conservatory where she took lessons, Malki’s
playing always reduced me to tears of nachat (pleasure).
She also taught herself to
play guitar and, I’ve been told, would lug it around practically everywhere,
and strike up group sing-a-longs at every opportunity – even on the school
bus. Needless to say, the songs she and her friends sang were what Israeli
teenagers call “shirei neshama” – songs of the soul.
Once Haya’s condition
stabilized somewhat and I leaned on Malki’s help in that area a lot less, I
made a great effort to “normalize” our family life as much as possible.
Malki’s contacts with Haya were more pleasurable, and her love unadulterated.
On those rare occasions when she was home relaxing, she would sit Haya in her
lap on an armchair. At night, she often took her into her bed and slept beside
her. She became the only other family member capable of feeding Haya and
relieved me thus from time to time.
Her relationship with Haya
did not satisfy her urge to help those less fortunate than herself. She
exhibited an amazing sensitivity to all kinds of disabled people. One summer,
she helped a local single mother with her profoundly disabled child suffering
from the degenerative Canavan’s Disease. His limited responses were hardly
noticed by others but elicited enthusiasm from my Mali.
At school, she gravitated
towards the group of learning-disabled girls who study in a separate but
parallel class. She developed genuine friendships with them and urged her
teachers to include those girls more frequently in joint activities with the
Two weeks before her death,
Malki volunteered with a girlfriend at a sports camp located in the Galilee
(arranged by the Etgarim organization) for disabled children. During the five
days they were there assisting the counselors, Malki’s gentle, caring way
touched everyone. Many of the people associated with Etgarim travelled long
distances to comfort us during the Shiva; one trekked all the way from Kiryat
Shmona at Israel’s northernmost edge and back in one day, a four hour drive
each way. They related incredible stories to us about Malki.
One of the counsellors who
had supervised her remembered the farewell chat he had conducted with the
volunteers the night before their return home. He asked each of them to stand up
and tell the group what they viewed as the most important feature of their
participation. When they did, they all emphasized the importance of, and
satisfaction gained from, giving to others.
Malki was the last to speak.
We were told that she spoke glowingly of what she had gained – of the
happiness she had experienced in working with the children.
Nearly a year before she was
murdered, Malki and her friends, at the behest of their youth movement leader,
wrote personal letters addressed to G-d, in which they expressed their prayers
and requests for the upcoming Jewish New Year. They submitted them to her in
sealed envelopes, the intention being to open and read them aloud the following
year. The madricha (leader) brought us Malki’s sealed letter during the
Shiva. Arnold, my husband, has not yet manged to bring himself to read it but,
despite a torrent of tears, I did. Malki prayed for success in school and in her
youth movement as a counselor (which she was to become several months later).
She added the hope that our family would remain close and supportive of one
another. Her request for Haya was particularly striking: not for a miracle, a
cure or even a dramatic improvement. Ever modest, she asked that Haya learn to
somehow convey to us which of our actions please and which disturb her.
In the final line of
Malki’s letter, in small script because the page had already been filled, I
read: “…and that I’ll be alive and that the Messiah should come”.
People have told us that our
precious memories will eventually bring comfort. But at this point that seems
impossible. I cannot conjure up even one of those I have mentioned without
crying over the tragic loss that has befallen us, her friends, and the many
others she surely would have helped had she been allowed to live out her life to
its full course.